Given our language for work and play, it makes sense that we often see a barrier between the two. We split our days into time spent productively, creating things of value, and time spent in leisure, creating nothing of value (and only pursuing our own delight). When facing hyper competitive situations, we remind ourselves that we're not there to have fun, we're not there to make friends - we're there to win.

However, having just read Stuart Brown's book on Play, I really enjoyed his observation about the nature of play: the opposite of play is not actually work. The opposite of play is depression.

When you examine his dimensions of play, this conclusion is not immediately apparent. Play is apparently purposeless, and work is purposeful. Play is voluntary, and work is often obligatory. Play has inherent attraction and is fun, and work is, well, work. Play has improvisational potential, and work is often fairly regimented. Play is the essence of freedom, and work is the opposite.

We do our best work when in a state of play. Psychologically, play helps to put us into a state of flow. It encourages collaboration (we naturally handicap ourselves to extend play), and it generates a kind of effortless presence that mindfulness gurus work so hard to cultivate. It encourages us to seek out further challenge (desirable difficulties), and find joy in the whole process.

We have social movements exhorting young minds to pursue their passion in life and "seek their bliss" as per Joseph Campbell. They would be better off encouraging people to discover that which evokes their sense of play. Find your natural inclination, and build from there to see what emerges from your own unique set of opportunities.

Finding what evokes your sense of play is different from finding that which evokes your happiness or feelings of pleasure. The latter doesn't need to be generative in nature, whereas play, by definition, is incredibly generative. Being in a state of play routinely leads to a certain amount of effort - or work - in particular to extend the state of play, or to seek new and interesting ways to deepen your own expertise.

Finding your bliss, then, is not about discovering a love for accounting, but rather, is about discovering that you love playing with numbers and exploring what they represent in reality. It's not discovering a love of medicine, but rather about discovering that you love working with people and guiding them through the uncertainty of sickness armed with a nuanced understanding of the body as a complex biological system with infinite variations of factors contributing to (or detracting from) health.

In a lot of ways, some of the more powerful educational experiences are those that tap into our natural inclination for play. They give children the tools they need to continue to play into their adult lives - the knowledge, the metacognitive understanding, and a vast store of experiences to back up their confidence that they can keep playing well into their adult lives. Lifelong learners are those who have learned, first and foremost, that learning can be playful.